MEDIA
06/07/2017 01:03 am ET

Journalist Arrested During D.C. Protest Faces 75 Years In Prison

"Being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included."

Spencer Platt via Getty Images
Police officers responded to inauguration protesters with tear gas after violence erupted and a limo was set on fire.

Aaron Cantú, a freelance journalist arrested during Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C., has been indicted by a federal grand jury on riot charges and faces up to 75 years in prison if convicted.

Cantú, who says he was working as a journalist at the time, was one of 230 people arrested during violent demonstrations held Jan. 20 as President Donald Trump was sworn into office. Six other journalists were among those detained by authorities, all of whom have since had charges against them dropped.

A grand jury indicted Cantú last week on eight felony charges, including inciting a riot, rioting and conspiracy to riot, according to his current employer, the Santa Fe Reporter. The paper published a story in defense of his actions, and the outlet’s editor said it continued to “stand behind him.”

“Aaron is an experienced journalist who disclosed this pending case during the hiring process,” said Julie Ann Grimm, editor and publisher of the Santa Fe Reporter. “We stand behind him and look forward to his continued good work in his new home in Santa Fe.”

Cantú’s work has been published by The Guardian, Vice News and The Nation, among others.

Earlier this year, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter to acting U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, who is overseeing the case, questioning the charges and declaring that “being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included.”

“Journalists are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism,” the advocacy group’s executive director, Bruce Brown, wrote in February. “They were covering protesters and were therefore in the vicinity when a few of those protesters apparently threw rocks or smashed store windows with hammers.... Journalists routinely run toward the center of any action, so they can better serve the public by reporting an event they personally witnessed, rather than something recounted by bystanders.”

If convicted on all charges, Cantú could be sentenced to up to 75 years, according to The Monitor newspaper in his native Rio Grande Valley in Texas. He is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

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